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How to research

In week one we asked a series of questions about story, including the five key questions of who, what, where, when and why.

Fact or fiction, the same questions apply.

Now, it’s time to start thinking about another key question: how?

In a later step we’ll be asking questions about structure, about how you’ll actually put your story together, which will lead us into further discussions about genre, plot, linearity and much more, but here we’re concerned with a different ‘how’, that is how you’re going to conduct your research.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • How will you go about getting the answers to the key questions?
  • What sort of material do you need? Plain statistics, personal testimonies, newspaper articles, historical textbooks or something more obscure?
  • How will you research your story? In a library or in person, on the internet or on the telephone?
  • Will you need to access primary or secondary sources or both?
  • How much material will you need? Remember that whether your story is fact or fiction, you will always need to gather more information than you can possibly hope to include.

It’s important to remember that the answers to these sorts of questions can have huge implications for the shape, style, and structure of your film.

Two filmmakers could approach the same story in completely different ways, with different methods, using different materials and techniques, and thus producing two very different final products.

Planning your film

These questions can also lead on to more specific questions about the planning and development phase of your film:

  • What sort of equipment will you need to get the footage that you want?
  • How big a crew will you need - just yourself or a cast of thousands?
  • What style should your film take? What tone should it adopt? Which is the best or most appropriate mode for the story you want to tell?
  • Is it going to be a drama, a documentary or a hybrid? Will it be objective or subjective? Is it light-hearted, sombre, or matter-of-fact? Emotive, informative, or something in between?
  • Think of a few words that might describe the style, mode, tone and intention of your story.

Please do share some of your thoughts in the comments area.

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web

University of Birmingham